Athletics Equipment Manager Part 2

Sample tickets from 2008 Dallas Cowboys season tickets.

Sample tickets from 2008 Dallas Cowboys season ticket packet, including the 49ers game. I wasn’t with the team then, but it’s a nice memento since I had the opportunity to travel to the old Texas Stadium during my time as an intern in San Francisco!

The previous post, Athletics Equipment Manager Part 1, didn’t actually talk much about athletics or sports equipment nor equipment services. It did give a pretty basic outline of what did eventually lead me into athletics as a career, primarily as an athletics equipment manager at first. My time as a student manager of athletics intrigued me enough that I did not want to leave the sports world and opened a few doors that allowed me to make a living doing so. In this post, I’ll go more into the technical side of what I did as a football equipment manager and a bit about the positions I’ve held in that field of work.

Upon graduation from the University of Notre Dame, I accepted my first job as an equipment intern with the San Francisco 49ers NFL football team. In July of 2006 I was flown in to Santa Clara, CA from my home and picked up by the full-season intern who would be with the team until their very last game. From the airport, the other interns and I were driven to what we would call home for the next 7 weeks, the Santa Clara Holiday Inn. Yes, you read that right. I lived in a Holiday Inn hotel room for 7 weeks straight. That part really wasn’t that bad actually – we had someone to clean our room everyday, we had clean sheets every other day and had fresh towels every day too! Plus with all the “free” hotel soap and shampoo, we didn’t have to purchase any of that stuff either. Our meals were covered by the team on the days that we were working, including breakfast, lunch and dinner, so we basically had no living expenses to worry about at all. The day that we arrived we also checked in to the 49ers headquarters, situated about a mile from the Holiday Inn and adjacent to a sizable theme park in the area. We got to meet our bosses, a few of the coaches and front office staff and got a tour of the facilities, both upstairs and downstairs.

The 49ers headquarters and practice facility was, at the time, arguably one of the best in the NFL. In addition, they were probably one of the only teams that actually had all of their staff in one place. The main structure was a two-story building with office space, kitchen and dining area upstairs and locker room, meeting rooms, equipment room, players lounge, rehab facilities and training room all downstairs on the first level. Outside the back doors of the building were 3 full size practice fields (including the nicest Field Turf field on which I’ve ever stepped foot) a separate building for the grounds crew and their equipment and tools, the video staff offices and their equipment and miscellaneous team storage. At the far end of the fields were also the largest Tuff Shed storage sheds I’ve ever seen that housed all of the team’s field equipment and training dummies. The entire setup was first class all the way.

The day after we landed and checked in, we got right to work. The interns were split into two groups that took turns working different indoor/outdoor shifts. First – the outdoor work. The outdoor work had to do mainly with the field equipment the team would use at practice. We took an inventory of all the pads, dummies, shields, cones, and everything else that was out there so the coaches would be able to plan their practices accurately. In addition, each coach was able to request what they’d need for the year and if they didn’t already have the appropriate quantity or item, the equipment staff would order the appropriate items and make sure they were in full working order at all times. During that first week on the job we removed all the equipment from the sheds, cleaned every item with soap and water and then gave all the appropriate items a nice coating of Armor All (a car care product).  Once clean, all items were organized and stacked inside the sheds according to size, frequency of use and position coach.

Next – the inside work. As an equipment manager, nobody should ever really notice you. The only time you ever really see an equipment guy is if something is going wrong – like the wrong name or number on a jersey. Because the work of an equipment manager is so public and so important, we spend a great deal of time making sure those kinds of things do not happen. So, that first week with the 49ers was spent issuing equipment and gear to all the players lockers (the players hadn’t arrived yet) and then organizing everything in the back storage areas to make sure we had everything we might need for every possible contingency at both home games and on the road. That first week we also inspected every player’s shoulder pads and helmet, checked each locker for all the correct and matching pants pads, cleats and any other specialty type equipment issued by the athletic training staff. The specialty equipment could be anything from a neck roll, arm sleeve, ankle brace or something much more advanced and custom fitted to the exact specifications of the player’s injury or physical restrictions.

Because the San Francisco 49ers were, at the time, based in Santa Clara and played their home games at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, the equipment staff treated every game like an away game. That means we basically packed the entire equipment room into movable trunks of various sizes, loaded up a semi-truck and hauled everything, and I mean everything, to the stadiums where we’d be playing for every game all season long. So, we had numerous lists of everything that would go into these travel trunks that got checked and re-checked every time we opened them up or got some new inventory from our vendors. This was a constant process that we tweaked every day leading up to our preseason games.

So about a week after we first arrived in Santa Clara, the players started to arrive for camp to begin. With about one day of orientation, we were into full practices the day after they arrived. Fall camp means long hours and hard work for everyone. Most weeks of fall camp involved 3 or 4 days of two-a-day practices, a scrimmage day, and an off day (for the players only). For at least the first 3 weeks we were on the job, the equipment staff had NO days off and the full-time guys didn’t get any days off until about mid-September after the season go started. We were responsible for all the laundry of the all the players’ practice gear, game uniforms, field setup and break down for practices and games, various locker room tasks, and we were constantly checking the players’ equipment to make sure it was in full working order. At this point, I had been through 3 years of football practice at Notre Dame and never seen anyone actually break a piece of equipment through normal play. (There were a few times where guys would throw their helmets on the ground out of frustration) During my short stint with the 49ers that lasted only about 7 weeks, we had a line backer that literally broke a set of shoulder pads and a defensive lineman that literally cracked two different helmets. WOW! That was one of my most memorable experiences of the NFL. This went on for about the next 5 weeks with 4 preseason games mixed in there. After each week the fall camp practice squad was cut  down to what would eventually make up the final roster of players and a few practice guys. By the first week of September, my last week on the job and the first week of the season, we had our full team ready to go.

So by now this post is getting pretty long and I’ll try to wrap it up. Equipment managers are the team behind the team – we do laundry, we set up the field for practices and games and put it all away, we organize, we’re the first ones there are the last ones to leave, we prep our gear and keep our athletes safe and we make sure our facilities are always looking their best. Most of all though, we’re planners and helpers and there’s no task too small or great. If you need something to get done, an equipment manager is the one for the job. It takes a great deal of patience and organization to keep a roster of athletes and coaches well equipped for their duties and equipment managers are prepared for all possible contingencies regardless of the circumstances. We’re always prepared. Despite all the millions of things going on in our mind, we get stuff done – on time, on budget and exceeding all expectations. Period. We’re responsible for moving an entire team and all of the “stuff” that keeps them moving and on the field ready to go to battle. I didn’t talk much about the transportation aspect of team travel, but we’ve got contingencies for that too. So if you really want to know what makes athletes tick or coaches motivated or a team functioning, ask an equipment manager. They are the ones in the background, not seeking attention but keeping everything in line.

If you’ve got any questions about the field of athletics equipment management, please let me know in the comments below – I’m happy to tell stories or answer questions. You can also subscribe by clicking the “Follow” button at the bottom of the screen.

Go Forth!